A different kind of Muslim

Rima Faqih.

You don’t know that name yet? Well, you shall, courtesy of Wikipedia, The Guardian, The Daily Star, and of course my favourite, Mona Eltahawy who’s comments appear in the following video:


Change to the Muslim world seem to be coming from Muslims in the free world. But can that counter the growing extremism and verdant sectarianism we experience in the lands of Islam? Could people like Rima Faqih and Aziz Ansari be the harbinger of change?

I don’t have the answer to this important question, I think no one does. However, more and more we witness Muslims spreading their wings and becoming politicians (Obama is still regarded as a Muslim in these hereabouts, on a cultural basis at least, thus illiciting some affinity), scientists, businessmen, media personalities and now a crowned beauty queen too. The common denominator is a free society with guaranteed personal rights and freedoms who are given a chance and are judged on their merits rather than the tribe they hail from and the sub-sect they belong to. It is only right that we look up to these people and to the environment which allowed them to excel.

Is it too much to just wish and even demand the same freedoms and nurturing environment in our countries too? Given half a chance, we too can be role models and live our lives to the fullest for the benefit of humanity.

Congratulations Rima. And Aziz of course, and the rest of the Muslims who have made it on their own recognizance. May you always inspire.


  1. maysaloon

    God save us all from your kind of Muslims. In the case of some of them it is less a case of spreading wings and more a case of spreading legs. Yet this is not surprising that some people naively still think Obama is a Muslim (culturally, whatever that means).

    In bridging the culture gap one must always be wary of not just crossing over entirely. As Muslims we should be doing our best to educate these people that fashion shows are derogatory and sexist rather than join them at their game. It is a centrel tenet of being Muslim to be commanding of virtue and forbidding of obscenity, something which I suspect not many of the people you mentioned would be familiar with.

    The situation in our countries is dire, but it will continue to get worse the more we imitate the values of the West and remain defensive about our own values. Values from which the Arab civilization that we all admire stems from and not the other way around.

    Unfortunately people like this ‘beauty’ queen are a symptom of the decline in fortunes. As for Ansari, well it is worrying to think that he is the harbinger of any kind of change. He might be funny but American guns are not and you’re going to need more than a smile to beat them.

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      The situation in our countries is dire, but it will continue to get worse the more we imitate the values of the West and remain defensive about our own values. Values from which the Arab civilization that we all admire stems from and not the other way around.

      I’ll pass on your rant. Not worth commenting on.

      However, while I too admire Arab past achievements, I’m intrigued at your assertion that the way forward is to continue to live in the past, aggrandize it, and negate all the present achievements of the West while using tools its present civilisation has bestowed on you.

      I wouldn’t be surprised to note that you advocate keeping the hareem in the house, insist on whomever male they have to come in contact with to be breastfed to fill first and walk several steps behind you while covered from head to foot as an awra, and that, to you, is progress. Or is it keeping women in their place?

  2. Maysaloon

    Rant Mr Mahmoud?
    On the contrary, it is a legitimate question that has to be posed. Why do we insist on imitating everything the West has to offer us? That question still stands regardless of whether you wish to avoid it.

    For your information I do not advocate that position on women that you attribute to me. I can understand that you are quite defensive because I’m sure the ideas that you advocate on your blog must come under severe criticism by my stricter and less flexible brethren, but I assure you I’m not here to flame you.

    I’ve just stopped by to ask legitimate questions that I feel myself, as one of the Muslims you are refering to, entitled to ask, since I think that I too have a say on what I think constitutes effective change for our world.

    I most certainly do not “live” in the past, nor do I aggrandize it. I think perhaps if we step away from pre-fabricated misconceptions then we might have a more fruitful discussion. Otherwise we will be arguing with the opponent in our mind rather than the one we have. So, my hand remains stretched out…


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      I think you very first sentence is exclusionary and shows your position quite amply:

      God save us all from your kind of Muslims.

      So where is the legitimacy you claim and the understanding you allude to? You have already made up your mind that Muslims are templated and rigid who must subscribe to your metric on what and how a Muslim should be.

      Would there be any profit in engaging such a diametrically opposite stance? I don’t feel that there is any genuineness at all in your position which has already solidified into narrow perceptions alien to this day and age. You, I suspect, would be more comfortable returning 1400 years hence to win entry into your version of Heaven at the exclusion of others.

      Correct me if I’m wrong please. My hand is always extended in peace.

  3. Maysaloon

    Yes, my first sentence was blunt. The truth is I’m a firm believer that blog discussions should be succinct and to the point, so we all avoid writing mini-essays to each other. That is why I headlined my position straight away.

    You are wrong and as you have allowed me the opportunity to correct you on your impression about me then I cannot pass up such a chance! I think you will find that I am quite flexible and not at all what you assume of me. Provided that is we know precisely what we are talking about!

    I think at this stage we probably need to clarify what we both mean by Muslim. When somebody tells me they are American then I take that to mean a number of things. Firstly they come from a particular continent. On a popular level it generally means they are from the United States and not, say, Canada. So with what we mean by a Muslim, my take on it is that it is a set of beliefs, since other than that you cannot really restrict it to ethnicity, sex or nationality and geography.

    If it is a set of beliefs, then what are these beliefs?

    Now I just want to clarify that when I mean this is this and not that I distinguish between like and like and like and not like. It is not necessarily qualititative or derogatory, I’m only demarcating the lines so that we know what is what. We all know that the colour white defracts into all the different colours, but we will get nowhere if we insist that all colours are therefore white and the difference is irrelevant. Try picking curtains for your house on that basis and your wife will quickly have to intervene to prevent an interior design disaster.

    From what I know of the principles which consitute Muslim belief, the result is actually far from what you say they should be. Is this because my understanding of them is, as you say, “templated and rigid” or is there something I’m missing.

    Well if I was a Christian or an atheist or a Buddhist I would still be extremely hesitant to call a beauty queen contestant a harbinger of any kind of “progress” for humanity or for a set of people. I base that on objective ideas of what human worth is about. Therefore a beauty queen or a comedian on MTV are not really the yardstick I would use to measure whether a nation is “changing”. I think that is more a sign of desperation if that is the best that we can conceive of.

    So to conclude, it is not that I am attacking you personally, but I do not see how you can justify that such people can be harbingers of any kind of change when even educated people in the West would be hesitant to call Western counterparts of these people measures of any kind of progress. In fact a survey of the literature would show us it is quite the opposite. So Muslim or no Muslim, it’s not about me being backwards, or more comfortable with the 14th century, I would be comfortable wherever I am but that is a different story.

    The issue is that a change as important as the one you are advocating implicitly in your post is far too important to just be accepted at face value without us at least trying to provide a reasonable justification that withstands any amount of scrutiny. If it doesn’t then it is faulty and truth demands nothing further than that we discard it and move on to something else.

    That’s all really, no titanic clash, preaching or fire and brimstone.

    Peace out.

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      Well my friend if your answer is no dissertation I’m not sure what is. Regardless, let me refresh your memory as you’ve gone off at a tangent:

      Could people like Rima Faqih and Aziz Ansari be the harbinger of change?

      I don’t have the answer to this important question, I think no one does.

      I have no problem whatsoever with both Rima and Aziz pursuing their passions. No matter how “distasteful” you might find them.

      You must agree however that they are pushing boundaries and promoting discussions, it is through these discussions that intelligent people could progress their communities.

      Unless of course, one subscribes to killing them because what they did is “unislamic”.

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    2. Craig

      it will be good idea to read 101 islam for a start

      Want me to give it a shot based on what I’ve seen the last decade?

      Why is it I never see anyone claiming mass murderers and child killers, rapists and kidnappers are unislamic? But let a girl put on a bikini and just stand the hell by because we’re going to hear all about what a bad Muslim she is!

  4. Maysaloon

    Well Mahmood thanks for bringing me back from a tangent in that case (I’m sorry about the dissertation, I just felt you have a stereotype of me and I wanted to be clear). I agree with you on that point and I’d like to think that this is one such discussion.

    I don’t subscribe to killing anybody for doing something “unislamic” after all we all make mistakes and I’d probably be dead by now.

    I’m just saying it is ok to have an opinion and to make an informed judgement or criticism without falling into the liberal/fundamentalist dichotomy. Otherwise we throw the baby out with the bathwater my friend.

  5. Pingback: The Stake is Ready. Bring on those Saudis! | Mahmood's Den

  6. Anonny


    I think your first line in your first response was you being honest about how you felt.

    The rest is just dressing up. Despite your verbose mask of civility, your position is quite clear. Why else this deluge of subsequent paragraphs?

    We are seeing this more and more. Pseudointellectual justification for extreme intolerance. You could be more honest, you know. It would reduce the chances of you suffering from RSI and we would all eventually end up learning more.

    The only one I see here trying to bust rigid stereotypes is Mahmood.

  7. Shaker N Kutty

    Rima Fakih has the freedom to do whatever she wants with her life.
    She can be a stripper if she wants to; a Beauty Queen too.
    She can spread her legs to anyone, anytime she pleases; those are her legs.
    She can kneel down in prayer once or four times a day; those are her legs.
    The definition of a Moslem is personal for each believer; if it isn’t, it should be!
    Judging is easy; walk a mile in the other man’s shoes, etc.

  8. Maysaloon

    I never denied that the first line was what I thought. In fact I said so. But you were never interested in reading anything were you? My only response to you is…salam. I think you know why.

    Shaker n Kutty,
    That’s right, she does. In fact we all do. That is why when we are all finally judged there will be no unjust rewards or punishments. You have your beliefs and I have mine. All I’ve done is my duty to remind. Salam.

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      You have your beliefs and I have mine. All I’ve done is my duty to remind.

      I have a problem with this statement. Apart from the two sentences being completely contradictory, that “duty to remind” part in particular has been used and abused and hidden behind to justify everything from interference to killing. To some people, it justifies – to them at least – taking the law into their own hands, because they regard it as “their duty” too.

      1. Anonny


        I am very interested in reading from those who do not agree with me and are very open and honest about their true opinions. This is the best way to learn new truths. I can think of nothing more poisonous than to surround yourself only with people who agree with you and rot in the stink of your own reflections.

        I know why you respond with ‘salam’ – it’s a barrier to further discussion. You just wanted to inflict your self-righteousness upon us without hearing anythnig to the contrary? I guess you know that ‘ebtislam’ wouldn’t work.

  9. Maysaloon

    Actually I think you have a problem with everything I’ve said and not just with that statement. I’m sorry to have troubled you and wish you well. Salam.

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      Sorry you feel that way. My concern is genuine as I feel that your stream of thought, which I have no doubt at all it being noble to your mind, could conceivably lead to quite unfortunate circumstances.

      Like that of Rashida and many others like her. I’m sure they too were simply doing “their duty” too.

  10. Maysaloon

    Mahmood it is ok, there is no need to feel sorry. I understand how concerned you are, but consider that I too think the same of your ideas. You are linking me to a tabloid site which is sensationally reporting a tragic story, mocking Rashida, by including a suggestive picture of a woman’s visible underwear underneath her very short skirt. The irony of that didn’t seem to register with you, nor the fact that not all of us Muslims do kill our daughters, or even hit them, if they make a mistake. Many, including myself, forgive, teach, and remind.

    We are people, like you. Not monsters but human beings. As Muslims we will decide if a woman walking around in a bikini in public is a good “change” for our community, not you. That you refuse us this prerogative and constantly portray us all as violent thugs or oppressed women -as if it doesn’t happen anywhere else – is what saddens me. As the famous bard said, “if you cut us do we not bleed?”

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      It’s interesting that you concentrate on the picture and the underwear than the heinous crime served onto the poor young woman.

      It’s also very interesting that you seem to be infatuated with the clothes women might want to wear in public rather than allowing them the freedom to do so if they so wish within the constraints of the local laws.

      I’m not sure how you got the impression that I portray “you” in such a bad light as you describe yourself when I don’t even know your gender or name! Or is it that you’re more comfortable with blanket general statements to be ascribed to whomever differs with your opinion?

      My friend. Let me invite you to re-evaluate and re-initiate the discussion with the purpose of sincere understanding and take away the “us” and “them” mentality.

      After all, رأيي صواب يحتمل الخطأ ورأي غيري خطأ يحتمل الصواب – my opinion is right but could be incorrect, and others’ opinions are wrong but could be correct?

  11. Maysaloon

    I agree, the truth is just as sweet to me if it comes from you as it would be if it came from me. So let’s start from there. Your premise is that Miss Faqih’s winning of a beauty contest is a good change for the Muslim community, my position is that it is not.

    It is my position that beauty contests are degrading to women, sexist and derogatory. It is also my submission that, as a Muslim, Miss Faqih made an error of judgement in thinking that partaking in that event was consistent with her beliefs as a Muslim.

    My question to you is, what justifies your argument that what she did was good, and what justifies your contention that what she did was consistent with her Muslim beliefs.

    I think I’ve suitably laid down the groundwork for a fruitful exchange and comparison of ideas. The ball is in your court. If you please…

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      “إنما بعثت لأتمم مكارم الأخلاق”

      I was sent to complete morals(please contribute a better translation)

      That to me is the essence of Islam. Everything else is simply detail. Taking this into consideration, there is no way for a “true” Muslim to judge another’s piety or otherwise as a standard for being a good Muslim. It is the Creator who is the ultimate judge and it is to Him that these decisions should be left.

      Therefore, a statement like “what justifies your contention that what she did was consistent with her Muslim beliefs” I find very offensive and completely beside the point. Neither I, you or anyone else can judge another. That is not our job. We do not know what goes on into Allah’s mind. I am therefore content to say that her Muslim beliefs is her own concern and not mine.

      As to Miss Faqih participating in and winning a beauty pageant (she isn’t the first btw), I tend to look at a bigger picture rather than restrict my view in that particular event. She’s taken on the unfamiliar probably in the knowledge that she will face difficulties in the home country(ies). But she did it anyway in spite of that trepidation and in the full knowledge and support of her family. Hence; she was comfortable and found no fault in her participation. Who are we do then condemn her?

      Apart from that, with her participation it opened up avenues of discussion as we have been doing. Contrarian at times I am sure, but we are discussing it and with discussion societies move forward.

  12. Maysaloon

    Thank you for sharing your opinion on what the essence of Islam is, but we as Muslims don’t restrict the essence just to that, there is more to our faith than that.

    Since you mention a hadith though, you will be familiar with:

    من رأى منكم منكراً فليغيره بيده فان لم يستطع فبلسانه فان لم يستطع فبقلبه و ذلك أضعف الايمان

    But the question on my mind is why are you offended with my statement? It is a valid question, unless you want no rationality in the discussion. Because not only does the hadith you quoted blow your argument out of the water, there is nothing to be offended about. Still I appreciate you might have a delicate disposition so I will try to be gentler.

    Mahmood, we are not judging Miss Faqih. We are asking whether what she did was good for Muslims as you said it was.

    If you think it was good solely for promoting discussion, then there are far more important things which promote discussion and that need to be addressed. Like the state of the poor and hungry in the Muslim world, whilst others are rich from oil money or corruption.

    Her state of mind is her own concern, for as the prophet said, انما الأعمال بالنيات and her intention is between her and Allah.

    But it is legitimate if we ask whether her action is consistent with Islamic morality. That is visible and not internal in her mind. Otherwise on your logic we cannot judge a murderer, a thief, or a liar because we don’t know their intention. We would just leave it all till judgement day. But that will not do.

    1. Post

      How interesting…

      but we as Muslims don’t restrict the essence just to that, there is more to our faith than that.

      There you go with your exclusionary trait. I wonder if you’ve also got the exclusive keys to Heaven too? Anyone who doesn’t agree with you is not welcome?

      من رأى منكم منكراً فليغيره بيده فان لم يستطع فبلسانه فان لم يستطع فبقلبه و ذلك أضعف الايمان

      Which is exactly what I’m trying to do, but mine is of inclusion and peace while you seem to advocate a more “persuasive” method to “correct” those who – according to your myopic vision – have strayed away from your definition of Islam.

      I’m not surprised that you don’t see how offensive your statements are. That’s the way you’re built. You’re a “my way or the highway” kind of person. Well, to each their own.

      Let me reiterate: I do condone Rima’s choice as it is hers alone. I do think that she has done “us Muslims” much more good than you give her credit for and with her participation she has proved that there is no “templated” version of Muslim, but like others before her, she contributed positively to our image.

      But you do have a problem with that. I don’t. So what are you going to do about it? Get a visa to the States and have a real good discussion with her? A la: التغيير باليد؟

  13. Maysaloon

    There you go again. You are generalising about me when all I’ve done is asked you why, not whether or not you do, support Miss Faqih. Why don’t you want to back up your position with anything substantive? Your responses are baffling because the clearer I try to make my arguments, the more vague your replies become.

    What is that good you speak of? How can we quantify it? and if there is no template for Muslims then how can it be good for them as you say? You must have some perception about Muslims, heck you’ve been stereotyping me since we started this conversation!

    Mahmood, I don’t intend to correct you or Miss Faqih with the hand, nor do I intend to issue a fatwa on your head nor do I think people like you should be killed.

    I know you desperately want me to fit into your perception of what Muslim people are like but I won’t allow it. You are not my teacher. I will debate with you with wisdom, a good argument and good advice. I would do the same with Miss Faqih.

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      You are generalising about me when all I’ve done is asked you why

      This is comment #26. Go back and re-read what I have entered already including the original article. Your pedagoguery is getting awfully tiresome.

      nor do I intend to issue a fatwa on your head nor do I think people like you should be killed.

      Well that’s a relief. I can stop shaking in my boots now!

      I will debate with you with wisdom, a good argument and good advice. I would do the same with Miss Faqih.

      Wake me up when that happens please. It should be interesting.

  14. Maysaloon

    No need to re-read anything. In fact you can stay sleeping. You’ve said nothing since we started but that isn’t surprising. I’ll permit myself my first generalisation here when I say that like many Arab liberals, you’re unable to explain the reasoning behind any of your ideas. That’s because they aren’t yours.

    Anyhow I’ve already burdened you with far too much. So let’s call it quits at 28 and part ways. Salam Mahmood you’ve won. You beacon of civilization and progress you 😉

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  15. Visitor

    Mahmood If I were you I would do the wise thing to do and swallow my pride!

    Thanks to Maysaloon for sharing an alternate rational approach to this controversial topic. And my hats off to you for expressing it in such an articulate manner!

  16. super devoika

    Miss Rima is definitely a change in the image of Muslims… whether it is a good change or not is debatable as it shows from your comments…
    I understand Maysaloon’s concerns as to Rima being picked out as a source of inspiration for Muslim change…
    Beauty pageants?!! not my hope of change… but still… we have to owe it to her that she is courageous to break out of the norms…
    I hope others will adopt the drive to change and break away from all negative Muslims stereotypes…
    Their ways are their choices…
    It would be an awfully dull world if we are all thinking and behaving the same way…

    Another side thought and out of mere curiosity… did Rima say anything regarding her being a Muslim? or was it just a typical Media digging up hot news?

  17. Shaker N Cutty

    Actually, it should be: “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” Oh! And Shylock, a Jew, utters those words. Irony, anyone?
    My views on life are completely different from yours, a conversation would be pointless.

  18. Maryam

    Sorry but i find it very shallow if you even have to contemplate whether a beauty contest represents any kind of progress to anyones society??

    What happened to encouraging women to expand their minds intellectually instead of judging them on physical appearance and viewing them solely as trophies of desire…

    And dont even get me started on mtv

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